Rising Star Spotlight: Breakfield and Burkey!

Breakfield and Burkey
Breakfield and Burkey

Have you ever wished for someone to help you write a  book? Have you ever wondered how hard or easy it would be to have a writing partner?  How do you find one and how do two completely different people actually succeed at writing award winning books?  Well, just talk to Rox Burkey and Charles Breakfield!  They’ve been doing just that and producing some of the most tightly written and readable stories on the market today!

Before becoming co-authors, you spent decades working in information systems and technology. What is that? Tell us about it, so we understand!
We have both worked for leading manufacturers in the telecom industry. For example, one company provided equipment to AT&T, Verizon, Telus, British Telecom, and businesses worldwide. Communications evolved to unified communications, which opened the doors to the most common device uses like mobile phones and laptops that communicate around and through the Internet.
Information systems, think of it as data—shared far and wide. The content might be financial details, air travel tickets, inventories, payrolls, images like photos, and my least favorite, the IRS. Governments, all sizes of businesses, and individuals handle an enormous amount of data. Over time, the amount of data expanded, especially with the advent of social media.
Data sources, like your bank, can work with a company to handle payroll or bill paying. Years ago, paper copies made up the information of customers, sales, etc. Data records kept by a business maintained security through isolation, yet it often took weeks for a person to gain a copy of something. That is not the case in our digital world. Records today are digitized, with data lakes holding vast amounts of information. Security is the most critical aspect of data handling today. Individuals want their health status, wealth, relationships, and hundreds of other elements shared only by permission. The obligation to tag or mark information as private requires continual changes to data sources to maintain.
Our professional careers center on helping a myriad of enterprises understand how to meet the demands of their customers for data access to conduct business and maintain privacy. We have worked across the technology spectrum with changes that once occurred annually to nearly immediately. Think about how patient you are when you want an answer from your credit card provider—another information system.
Is that the career you dreamed of as a child?  If not, what was your dream?
Rox: I originally wanted to design clothing and ran a small business around that for a short time.
During early college years, I began working for a payroll organization automating weekly payrolls to thousands upon thousands of workers. That marked the beginning of my curiosity with technology and information systems. I learned about a variety of businesses and helped shaped many business operations.
I married, my children arrived, and life changed. My family was priority one. I also enjoyed my work, learning more each day. We had set goals that needed a two-income family. Soon I realized the future was in technology. If I was to find my place in this arena, I required more education. I decided that returning to college and finishing my education, even with my young family, was critical to succeed in the technology arena. It was a tough life/work balance for several years.
Charles: At one point, I wanted to follow in my dad's footsteps as a fighter pilot. The dream turned to ashes with a vision check. Without perfect eyesight at that time, it was a non-starter for acceptance to the Air Force Academy. After two years in college, I struck out into the business world.
I launched my comic and book distribution company. Once it grew beyond the usual cigar box accounting methods, I knew I had to computerize all the customer records. The sales volume made it clear I needed to match their orders to the incoming products. I stepped into the world of digital processing and never looked back.
What were you like as a child?
Rox: I loved playing outside in our small-town
neighborhood. Baseball was the best. I played catcher for a couple of years as my brother and the other boys didn’t want me on their team because I was short. I could catch and throw the ball fairly accurately, so they let me play.
I ran around with the other kids enjoying each season of the year. In Spring, we planted flowers and picked weeds. Summer, we’d grab raspberries from the neighbors’ bushes - covertly of course. Fall, we raked leaves and messed them up with jumping and extensive trick-or-treating. Winter required snowmen and forts with freezing fights for territory.
I recall borrowing paint from the garage to make the swing set pretty. I got in trouble for instigating the event because my girlfriends  and I had more enamel on us than the swing set. It looked great.
Mom solved my curiosity by getting me into Brownies and later Girl Scouts. I earned every badge and learned so many items I still use today.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Charles: I grew up with my two brothers on Air Force bases across the United States and Europe. I didn’t know people didn’t live out of packing boxes until I was thirteen.
My parents taught me to live honorably and the meaning of that word early. As the oldest, I helped my brothers during each move. We also learned how to shoot competitively, winning recognition and trophies while living in Europe.
I was fascinated by World War II history and built every battleship, armored personnel carrier, and airplane model I could get my hands on. Growing up in a weapons-oriented household, my favorite artifact from that time is the Panzer mark VI (Tiger Tank) that still sits on my desk today. I also read every World War II book I can find with authors from commentary on the moral high ground for honorable people, which is at the heart of the R-Group.
After so long in the technology fields, what prompted you to write books?
When we worked at the same technology manufacturer, leadership requested we contribute to technical manuals. At the same time, Rox got asked by a publisher to create non-fiction books. We delivered two non-fiction titles. Sadly, quadrupling changes in the information age, they became outdated weeks following their release. But the ah-ha moment had arrived—we discovered we could write together.
When those non-fiction books sold minimal copies, Charles said he didn’t want to spend the time writing technical books with all the real-time experience through work. A few months later, Rox sent a start to what became the first fiction book in the Enigma Series for Charles’ review. The clincher for the deal to write fiction was when she said; we use the technology we know, add fun story elements, and create evil characters from those personalities who annoy us and kill them.
We enjoy writing the technothrillers, which includes new capabilities in our connected world. The backstories fans have asked about, readers can find as ebook short stories.
How is writing books different or the same as Tech?
We enjoy learning the latest on-the-edge capabilities of an application, cloud networking, security, and artificial intelligence usage in our jobs. Through our work, we often see things before they get released to individuals or businesses.
Writing fictional stories allows us to take digitally connected capabilities and apply them to contemporary situations. We create characters to interact between our covers with lives, dreams, loves, and ambitions—good and evil. The characters are fictional (mainly), but the technology is accurate.
For example, we take a simple statement like changing your passwords often, making them different across your applications. A statement like that feels like a lecture. Folks, especially those under 20, nod and walk away.  
If we take the storytelling posture and show the results of what occurs when someone hacks into your bank account, your social media, or your laptop, an ah-ha moment happens.
Some anonymous hacker controls you. A cyber creep owns your bank account numbers, credit card numbers, health history, and more. With a story of a character experiencing this situation, readers start
making suitable changes to avoid a similar situation.
How did you acquire a writing partner?
As noted above, we have written together for more than 15 years. We wrote dozens of white papers, technical pieces for manuals, and the non-fictional work that was stale shortly after release. We found an electronic ability to maintain our story details, like characters, locations, and even chapter titles, to intrigue readers.
Together we deliver a better story than if we write independently. We can bounce plot ideas between conversations; wow, what do you think of this cloud provider’s applications or their security?
Our stories sound like one voice. Our collaborative ability is the magic we deliver as co-authors.
Is that relationship personal or strictly professional?
Rox: Our relationship is personal and professional—we are best friends. I hired Charles to work at my company many moons ago. I became the godmother to his youngest daughter when I got the insurance company to accept Charles’ claim for his daughter’s hospital costs.
The corporate/political winds did not favor either of us for long. I wound up as contract support for two government agencies and helped Charles relocate to a position with a different government agency. Charles relocated again and helped hire me into a well-known high-tech telecom company. There we worked together, delving into business problems for organizations worldwide. The shifts in technology drivers resulted in job changes which sent us into different tech roles, primarily to grow our professional careers.
Our writing partnership grew and was a significant outlet for work changes. Our LLC partnership got established in 2014. Our families are very close. The rest is history in the making, as they say!
What is the process when writing with a co-author?
We begin each story by identifying a problem or threat by technology. Funny, but often months after a book gets released, we find headlines that amount to the theme. Next, we outline the direction we want to take the tale, along with the top protagonists and antagonists. We rough out a few chapters, each leading the charge on one or another. Then we share the drafts to polish and gain a single voice.
One key element is ensuring each story can stand independently, but they are richer within the series.
We use our patent pending writing technique entitled Literary Badminton. The process begins with the four most terrifying words in our vocabulary; “I have an idea…” The words can occur almost any time of day, though frequently upon waking.
One of us begins writing on that idea or chapter and then bats it over to the other via email. This iterative process continues until we have a highly polished character or chapter module that gets bolted into the current story.
What are the pros and cons of having one?
The pros include the gender perspectives of the character in dialogue or actions. For instance, “Charles, no female on the planet would say that! Here let me modify it.” In contrast, the challenge might be, “Rox, that’s too wimpy for any male to state. It needs masculine words like bulldozer, pipe-wrench, and two-ton trucks.”
The cons remain version control while the manuscript gets batted back and forth using Literary Badminton. Regardless of our care in renaming files with dates, we have been caught missing something. We learn this during reviews.
If a version is lost or the wrong one is updated, each of us thinks the other has gone insane until the problem gets rectified. These can be, um, tense discussions while the manuscript gets repaired.
What is the biggest thing you have learned on your journey?
We know one thing above all; trust in one another is vital even when we disagree. Promises are made and kept. We conduct honest communications when needed, even multiple times on a given day. We share a sense of pride in our storytelling efforts and deliver our best. We have improved over time, and will continue to do so. Business partners and friends—we find that a positive from any perspective.
What dreams do you still hope to accomplish?
We are still aiming at the stars and hope one day to see their work on the silver screen. After our years of writing together, it would be most gratifying to have people point to us and call us overnight sensations. We don’t want to get called late to the table.